Spokane Neighborhoods: Moran and Glenrose Prairies -- Thumbnail History

  • By Stephen B. Emerson
  • Posted 9/05/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9036
Moran Prairie and Glenrose Prairie in what is now southeast Spokane were favorites of prehistoric American Indians and were populated at an early date by white settlers. The areas were attractive to both groups for two primary reasons -- they offered open, fertile meadows that were good environments both for Indian root staples and Euro-American agriculture, and they provided a natural travel route between the major drainages of Hangman Creek and the Spokane River. The prairies survived for many years as idyllic rural environments, served and tied together by an early railroad line. Only recently has suburban and commercial development washed over them like an irresistible tide.

Geography and History

Moran and Glenrose prairies lie along the boundary between the Okanogan Highlands and the Columbia Basin physiographic provinces. The average elevation is approximately 2,330 feet above mean sea level. Soils of the rolling meadows are predominantly of the Hesseltine-Cheney-Uhlig association, and are characterized by gravelly silt loams. These soils are ideal for growing forage crops, grains, and fruit, a factor which attracted farmers to the area at an early date. In recent decades, however, much of the soil has been covered by structures, concrete, and asphalt, as Spokane’s suburbs spread south and east in an ongoing assault. The native vegetation has mostly disappeared, first replaced by cultivated fields and grazing pasture, then by lawns and landscaping plants. Also, many areas now lie fallow, and invasive weed species are widespread.

These prairies lie within territory traditionally associated with the Upper Spokan group of Spokan Indians. It is likely, however, that resources of the vicinity were shared with the Coeur d’Alene Indians, for this was an area where tribal territories overlapped. Although most villages of both tribes were situated along primary streams, prairies were likely used as travel routes between the Spokane River and Latah (Hangman) Creek drainages and as an access to upland resources such as berries and game. It is also likely that camas grew in the open meadows west of Browne Mountain.

White Settlement 

Following the conflicts of the 1850s, immigration from the Eastern United States was encouraged by the removal of most Indian inhabitants to reservations. In the early 1860s, the well-known Mullan Road was built through the vicinity, passing to the south and east of what are now the Spokane city limits. Several markers were later erected on the prairies to commemorate the event. Because of the Mullan Road, the area was subject to early scrutiny by potential settlers. The open meadows were attractive to those seeking to establish farms. One of these early travelers who decided to stay was Joe Jackson, who established a farm at a point on the Mullan Road where a branch turned northwest toward Spokane Falls. Jackson sold the farm to Joseph Morin in about 1870 and, in 1873, Morin witnessed the passage of James Glover (1837-1921), on his way to the falls to purchase a mill and build the foundations of the future town of Spokane. The spelling of Morin’s name was altered and the vicinity took on the name of Moran Prairie.

Although Moran Prairie and Glenrose Prairie developed into separate neighborhoods, in the early years, these prairies were considered to be one entity, connected meadowlands occupying the base of Browne Mountain. One of the earliest maps of the area appears in Jonathan Edwards's An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington, printed in 1900. The map, produced by surveyor John Wetzel, illustrates with a dotted line an amorphous stretch of land wrapping around the west slopes of the mountains to the east. Communities identified on the map include Moran, on S. Regal Street near 53rd Avenue, and Moran Prairie, where the Moran United Methodist Church is now (2009) located. Remarkably, the configurations of S Regal Street and 65th Avenue have not changed since 1900.

Joseph Morin’s counterpart on Glenrose Prairie was Robert Williamson, who homesteaded in the area in 1876 and raised a large family. For many years the vicinity was called Williamson Prairie, but the name Glenrose Prairie eventually took hold. Another early Glenrose settler was Thomas Weger, who furnished horses both for Mr. Williamson and for the U.S. Postal Service. A son of Mr. Williamson, Alphus, built a barn for use by the postal horses that still stands today near S Glenrose Road and 28th Avenue. When Joseph Morin was killed by an angry bull on July 4, 1889, neighbor and friend Mr. Weger donated land for Mr. Morin’s grave, which eventually developed as the Moran Cemetery, located at the northwest corner of S Regal Street and 65th Avenue.

Enter J. J. Browne

John J. Browne (1843-1912) purchased the Morin property and other nearby acreage in 1890. A lawyer and educator, J. J. Browne was a business associate of James Glover and A. M. Cannon, and was instrumental in the early development of Spokane. A devoted family man, Mr. Browne’s crowning achievement, in his mind, may have been the development of his elaborate farm, located northwest of the intersection of 57th Avenue and S Glenrose Road. Two of his son’s, Guy and Earl built their homes on the lower slopes of Browne Mountain, which was named after their father.

J. J. Browne died in 1912, just months after he was profiled in N.W. Durham’s History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, in which Browne was described as Spokane’s first millionaire. The large and distinctive house on the Browne farm was purchased by the Drewes family in 1936 and, unfortunately, burned to the ground that same year. Most other buildings were subsequently removed, leaving only the livestock barn and a springhouse standing at present.

Spokane's Electric Railroad

J. J. Browne was also instrumental in the construction of the Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad. The trains ran on electricity delivered by the Washington Water Power Company, which led to the first electric power to be provided for the homes of Moran and Glenrose prairies. Construction on the railroad began and was finished by 1908. Some of the land for the railroad was donated by J. J. Browne and the line conveniently ran directly adjacent to his farm, providing a ready marketing outlet for his produce.

The Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad was a local service line, extending from Spokane to Colfax and Moscow, Idaho, connecting rural communities with major railroad distribution systems in Spokane. To better serve these communities, stations along the railroad were numerous and close together. These stations included Pantops, the northernmost; Rosedale; Moran (at the corner of Glenrose Road and Ben Burr Road); Piedmont; Parkview; Hilby; Willow Springs; and Silver Hill. Although all of the tracks and trestles appear to have been removed by the 1950s and 1960s, the route of the railroad was still visible in aerial photos taken in 1980, and is probably still so today.

Because of the railroad, raising fruit became a lucrative activity on the prairies, prompting a boom in orchard production, especially of apples and cherries. The railroad operated during the boom years, suffered losses as the gasoline engine increasingly placed transportation duties on cars and trucks, and limped through the desperate years following the stock market crash of 1929. The line ceased operations in 1939. Much of the track and some of the trestles remained into the late 1940s, but the route never reopened and now the tracks and trestles are gone.

From Trails to Roads

The growth of transportation networks south of Spokane can be traced using old maps and historic aerial photographs. It began, of course, with Native American trails, several of which the Mullan Road followed. By 1900, a network of rural roads provided access to nearly every section in every township in Spokane County. By 1917, the current road network was mostly in place. It included 57th Avenue, 65th Avenue, 29th Avenue, 37th Avenue, Eastern Road, Regal and Freya streets, as well as the Hatch Road access to the south side of Spokane and the prairies.

The beginnings of the Palouse Highway were in place, but consisted only of angular sections of rural roads piecemealed together along which one could eventually reach the farm communities of the Palouse Hills to the south. Also the configuration of Glenrose Road was not yet complete. By 1936, however, the sweeping curves of Glenrose Road were in place and the Palouse Highway had been rebuilt as a continuous road, cutting a diagonal route across the prairies to the old rail station at Moran and then winding south through the valleys of the Palouse Country.

The railroad still cut its prominent path through the area but, by 1936, its days were numbered. Although considerable road improvement has taken place since that time, the road network has remained largely unchanged, the biggest alteration probably being the construction of Ben Burr Road along the bed of the old railroad.

From Chickens to Lawns and Malls

Economically, the boom and bust patterns of the fruit business were repeated several times in the Moran and Glenrose vicinities. Fruit prices and the health of orchards fluctuated as did the viability of transportation to markets. The same scenario greeted the green house industry and the practice of chicken farming, which prospered in the 1940s and 1950s, but then dropped off.

Today the great majority of the inhabitants of both prairies commute to jobs in Spokane or other locales. Farming presently is largely part-time and livestock-raising is usually non-commercial. Three different kinds of development threaten the character of the area today. In the surrounding hills, where panoramic views are to be had, wealthy homeowners build estates on lots usually larger than one acre and up to five acres in size. On the level plains below, large middle-class housing developments densely take over the open space. And along the main thoroughfares, large shopping malls and retail box stores gobble up the land in big chunks.

Sources: Rowland Bond, Early Birds of the Northwest (Nine Mile Falls: Spokane House Enterprises, 1971); Mrs. Thomas Campbell, Paper read to the Moran Grange, 1935, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library;  Jonathan Edwards, An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington (San Francisco?: W. H. Lever, 1900); Norman C. Donaldson and Laurence D. Giese, Soil Survey of Spokane County, Washington (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Washington Agricultural Experiment Station, 1968); N. W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, Washington, Vol. 2 (Spokane-Chicago-Philadelphia: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912); Glenrose Community Association, Historic Calendar, 1999, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library; Glenrose Community Association, Historic Calendar, 2000, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library; Glenrose Community Association, Historic Calendar, 2002, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library; Charles F. Metsker, Metsker’s Map of Spokane County, Washington (Portland: Metsker Map Company, 1957); Charles A. Ogle, Standard Atlas of Spokane County, Washington (Chicago: George Ogle &  Company, 1912); R. L. Polk, Polk’s City Directory for the City of Spokane (R. L. Polk Company, various years); Verne F. Ray, "Native Villages and Groupings of the Columbia Basin," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol 27, No. 2 (1936), pp. 99-152; Spokane County, Aerial photos of Spokane, Washington (Spokane County Department of Public Works, 1938); Spokane County, Aerial photos of Spokane, Washington, (Spokane County Department of Public Works, 1980); "Flames Destroy Valley Landmark," Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 12, 1936, p. 1; "Death of Pioneer Related," Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 16, 1972;  Cornelius Van Duyne, Soil Survey of Spokane County, Washington (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1921); Thomas Wilber Weger, written statement to Joel E. Ferris, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, 1958; Linda Yeomans, Guy Browne House, Spokane Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Spokane City/County Historic Preservation Office, Spokane, 1997.

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